Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Could Block ANC 7B Residents

Map of the complete course for the 2014 Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. The route section in question encompasses miles 24 and 25. Photo: Rock 'n' Roll Marathon website

On March 15 the city will host the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and Half Marathon. It is the only race that takes place entirely in the city, with runners passing through all but one ward. Traffic issues are to be expected, but some areas located east of the Anacostia River will be completely blocked as a result. While some advisory neighborhood commissioners express concerns and frustration with the process, they hope to work with the marathon's organizers to find a solution.

Traffic Issues in 7B

“I have no problems with the race itself” said Patricia Howard-Chittams, commissioner for advisory neighborhood commission (ANC) single-member district (SMD) 7B01. “I have issues with it being disproportionate to my constituents.” On race day a large portion of Minnesota Avenue, a major street in the SMD, will be closed for up to five hours. Runners will cross Pennsylvania Avenue to Minnesota, then run uphill toward East Capital Street. As a result many residents in 7B01 and nearby 7B03 would be blocked from the rest of the city, with no transportation going in or out.

According to a road closure notice, only pedestrian traffic would be allowed on Minnesota between L'Enfant Square and East Capital Street. However, Commissioner Howard-Chittams said that interactions between community members and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) have not been pleasant on past race days. “Last year a church had a funeral scheduled on the same day,” she said. “My husband had to beg MPD to work with the church.”

Discussing Solutions

Commissioner Howard-Chittams, along with fellow Commissioner Gary Butler (7B03), met with marathon organizers as well as representatives from the MPD and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) on Feb. 19. “I made all parties aware” that Diane Thomas of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, the race's organizer, “promised to bring the interested parties to the table for a discussion about the location of the race route early in the planning last year,” she wrote in an email to her constituents. “Unfortunately, that meeting did not occur. Instead, we were meeting in February, with the race less than one month away.”

During the meeting the parties discussed alternatives, including changing the course. Fairlawn Avenue and the Anacostia River Trails were suggested as potential course spots, but the organizers did not approve. Another suggestion was renting a shuttle bus to transport residents from Randle Circle to the Anacostia Metro station. “Rightly, neither the community nor Metro should bear the cost,” said Commissioner Howard-Chittams. However, marathon organizers would not commit to pay for a shuttle bus at the time.

ANC Success Stories

Previous marathons have caused traffic and transportation issues for all residents, not just those living east of the river. “In the past, the route was either difficult to get out of or hard to cross,” said ANC 6A04 Commissioner Nick Alberti. While his commission requested organizers to change the route, he said that it took much discussion before they reached an agreement. “At one point we threatened not to support the event until they made changes,” he said. While the commission suggested reversing a section of the course, marathon organizers worked with MPD to assist residents who wanted to leave their homes during the race. “I understand the difficulty in planning this event,” Commissioner Alberti explained, “but it doesn't give them to right to alienate the residents.”

“We had a feeling that the race would close off about 6,000 people,” said ANC 6D04 Commissioner Andy Litsky. “We have two rivers and Fort McNair for boundaries, so we already have a limited amount of space.” ANC 6D contacted the media, specifically News Channel 8 and NBC 4. “We showed how we would be impacted and the protests,” Commissioner Litsky explained. “We needed the city to know our displeasure.” This led to a meeting with marathon organizers and city officials to find better solutions. The commission successfully requested advanced notifications on course changes, better signage visibility, and a course that allows for two access streets.

Advice

Commissioners Litsky and Alberti gave advice to others in a similar situation. “It's a matter of working with them and them working with you,” said Litsky. Alberti agreed, saying, “Everyone wants to do the right thing. You have to work constructively with them. This is especially true when asking organizers to change the course.”

They also advised getting assistance from the DC government. Alberti suggested working with their councilmember (in ANC 7B's case, Yvette Alexander) while making course suggestions. Litsky advised consulting the mayor's Special Event Task Force Group, whose member agencies include MPD, the Executive Office of the Mayor, and the DC Department of Transportation. “ANCs are supposed to make suggestions,” said Litsky, “but the Task Force ultimately makes the final decision.”